THEY SAID IT AT THE HOSPICE DU RHONE
Billed as the world's biggest celebration of classic Rhône varietals, the 10th annual Hospice du Rhône held in late May, in Paso Robles, attracted winemakers from around the world. The three-day hoedown means fans of these varietals can taste and see what's going on at wineries from the Rhône River Valley to California, and from Stellenbosch to the Eden Valley. The event always features plenty of Cabernet bashing—here's a sampling of the comments.
"It's 9 a.m. and time to smell the Carignan. Wake up!"—Wine importer Eric Solomon, moderating an early-morning panel on the wines of the Priorat region of Spain.
"I don't even consider Cabernet a noble variety."—Ehren Jordan, winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars.
"It's a love-hate relationship, sort of like people that go to USC bash UCLA."—Jim Knight, wine buyer for The Wine House of West L.A., on Cabernet-bashing by Syrah freaks.
"Like Ehren Jordan, we don't actually finish many bottles of Bordeaux." —Solomon.
"Hospice du Rhône is all about really weird stuff that no one's ever heard of. But darn it, they should."—John Alban, Central Coast vintner and HdR cofounder.
"By the time we leave here today, no one will complain that 'Viognier' is hard to pronounce."—Alban, on a seminar featuring the Spanish varietals Picpoul and Cariñena, made by wineries like Conreria d'Scala Dei and Mas Doix.
"The wine would be better if the yield was lower."—A tongue-in-cheek Manfred Krankl, owner of Sine Qua Non winery, on reports that old-vine Grenache yields a miserly one bunch of grapes per vine.
"My vines are very old. Like five years."—Wild and crazy Condrieu winemaker Francois Villard on the old-vine craze in America.
"When the wife is a good cook, the husband is a good winemaker."—Gallic wisdom from Hermitage winemaking guru Michel Chapoutier.
"High acidity is like cheap insurance. You prefer to have it to protect longevity, but you lose flavor."—Chapoutier.
"My personal experience is, high acidity is not cheap insurance, because you tend to lose five points from the critics on your scores. So it's very expensive insurance."—Alban, who, by the way, never sends his wines to critics for review.
"I'm concerned that too many [California] people seem to be looking at the typical [Aussie] Shiraz, and imitating the wine in terms of extraction and ripeness, rather than going for the elegance and the complexity."—Ridge winemaker Paul Draper, savoring one of his favorite Syrahs, Henschke's Hill of Grace.
"I certainly hope Syrah replaces Merlot as far as interest goes. But, uhh, I hope it doesn't replace Merlot in the sense that Merlot has kind of died now."—Christopher Keller, owner of L.A.-based Paige 23 Wines, who makes a killer Syrah.
"This is the best that Paso can produce, and it's priced accordingly."—So there, from Justin Strider Smith, of Saxum Wines, whose $50 Paso Robles Syrah may be the most expensive in the appellation.
Beyond the Big Apple
Tri-staters, take heed: The summer may be half over, but that doesn't mean you have to ride out your quarter share in the Hamptons or on Fire Island. Whether it's water or wine you seek, we've found plenty of spots to keep your pre-Labor Day weekends packed.
If you're headed out of the city on I-95 north, your first must-stop spot is Le Wine Shop in Larchmont. Opened in March 2002 by three transplanted Frenchmen, Jean Pierre Lacor, Etienne Touzot and Emmanuel Dupuy d'Angeac, Le Wine Shop's stock is 95 percent French, and includes everything from hard-to-find bottlings to $15 bargains. Tastings every Saturday and their auspicious location next to what Emmanuel describes as the area's best French cheese shop should be inducements enough to get you there. (1934 Palmer Avenue, Larchmont, NY. Tel.: 914/833-9666)
An hour or so farther on I-95 north, take I-395 east to Mohegan Sun. This summer's Wild Wednesdays begin July 10 and include fireworks, music and cook-offs that will benefit the New York City Fire Department. Better yet, stay for an entire weekend—you'll need at least that much time to make a dent in the property's 40-plus restaurants, including Todd English's Tuscany, which offers rustic but upscale Italian bites such as tenderloin of beef over panzanella salad ($24.50), and its own Steele "Todd English Selection" Zinfandel. At the Rockwell-designed restaurant, Rain, Executive Chef Michael Luboff and Chef de Cuisine Rolando Robledo's Maine diver scallops with Meyer lemon risotto ($36) and rabbit with applewood smoked bacon, lentilles and chanterelles ($14) are spectacular. The casino's 34-story luxury hotel just opened in April, too—now you can take a siesta upstairs after indulging all day. (One Mohegan Sun Boulevard, Uncasville, CT. Tel.: 888/ 777-7922; rooms from $175.)
The Mirror Lake Inn may be a bit of a trek from Manhattan (it's five hours away for those of us who mind the speed limit), but once you reach this Adirondack hideaway, you'll never want to leave. Their Saranac Suites (bilevel rooms complete with spiral staircase, a king-sized loft bed and a bedside jacuzzi) are luxurious, and all have balconies with stunning views of Mirror Lake. Afternoon tea, a posh on-site salon and spa, and the award-winning Averil Conwell Dining Room await you downstairs—c'mon, you've got to leave that fabulous room sometime. Ask them about their intimate, twice-yearly wine tasting weekend packages, too. (5 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, NY. Rooms from $150; Saranac Suites from $375. Tel.: 518/523-2544)
In some ways, the Homestead Inn feels like a home away from home—it's tucked away in the residential Belle Haven section of Greenwich, Connecticut, and has only 19 guest chambers. But that's where "homey" ends and lap of luxury begins: I don't know about you, but I don't have Frette linens and DUX beds in my digs! Co-owner Theresa Henkelmann designed the one-of-a-kind guest rooms herself; her Alsatian-born husband, Thomas, is the chef at the Inn's four-star restaurant that bears his name. Once you try chef's exquisite Black Truffle Royal with Lobster Bisque and wild Scottish partridge, you'll be making that 45-minutes-from-Midtown trip on weeknights, too. (420 Field Point Road, Greenwich, CT. Tel.: 203/869-7500. Rooms from $250; degustation menu, $105.)